The summer camp struggle

Our kids spent the day zooming down water slides at Atlantic Splash Adventure, but I wasn’t waiting at the bottom to take their picture.

They spent a week taking swimming lessons and earned badges without me ever watching from the sidelines.

They made friends I’ve never met, and went on field trips to places I’ve never been. 

They were in summer day camp.

I was here, at home, working.

I’ve worked from home since our son was born, but it’s evolved from very casual freelance — writing during his nap — to a full-time job that keeps me busy 40+ hours a week. 

Our son is now nine and our daughter is seven, heading into Grade 4 and Grade 2. While working from home means I could, in theory, keep them at home with me every day, I can’t write or edit or do telephone interviews in the midst of total chaos. 

I’ve gradually signed the kids up for more day camps each summer, as my workload has increased, and this summer we were up to six full weeks of camp. While it certainly helped me stay on top of my work, earn a living and maintain my sanity, it also made me a little sad. 

This was our kids’ new full-time life, and it had nothing to do with me.

I know “comparison is the thief of joy,” especially when it comes to parenting, but it’s so difficult not to compare your family to the ones around you. It seemed like so many of the kids’ friends either had a stay-at-home parent or a parent who was off all summer, taking them on leisurely adventures while I was schlepping mine off to day camp at 8 a.m. so I could get to work. 

I felt depressed thinking about all of the things our work schedules (and finances) were preventing us from doing as a family. We didn’t go to Magic Mountain or spend time on Prince Edward Island, like so many of our friends did. We didn’t go camping. We didn’t visit somebody’s lakefront cottage. We didn’t take day trips to Halifax to go to museums or ride the Harbour Hopper. We didn’t play mini golf or snuggle up at a drive-in movie. 

Our summer was revolving around camp drop-offs and pick-ups, packing lunches, losing water bottles and washing soggy pool towels.

Even though I felt a bit guilty about all the camp — and the kids occasionally complained about spending so much time there — the truth was they did enjoy themselves. They had friends there. They adored their counselors. They took long walks to playgrounds and splash pads. They swam and played tag and learned complicated ball games. They got plenty of fresh air and sunshine. They came home sweaty, dirty and tired from doing all of the things kids should be doing during the summer. 

If the kids had stayed home with me while I had to work, they wouldn’t have been able to do nearly as much. Would they really have been able to keep themselves quiet for hours with LEGO, books, dolls and playing cards … or would they have whined and fought and begged for screen time and harassed me for snacks until I’d yelled at them in frustration? Judging from how previous summers have gone, when both the kids were underfoot while I worked, my income and my mental health would have both taken a nosedive.

I know I’ll still feel a twinge of sadness when school starts up again and everyone chats about all the wholesome family fun they had over the summer. But I plan to remind myself that we still did a lot of fun things together, as a family, even though the kids spent six weeks in day camp. 

We cheered at the Pride Parade.

We went to Canada’s Wonderland.

We celebrated Harry Potter’s birthday at the library.

We painted pottery at Clay Café.

We played with puppies.

We went swimming.

We ate ice cream cones and went to a play and splashed in the ocean. We roasted marshmallows and played cards and read books and rode bikes. We ate cotton candy and watched horse shows and shrieked on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the Provincial Exhibition

We had a good summer, and we all did what we needed to do.

So what do you think?

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